I’ve previously mentioned that I’ve had a thing for podcasts. I find they’re the best thing to have in my ears when I’m taking my daily walk, because they’re less predictable than music for when you’re strolling; it’s easier to avoid clock-watching with a podcast because even though you might know the length of the things, the content isn’t as familiar as music you’ve heard before, where the verse/chorus/verse that you’re familiar with become clock-stopping impediments.
So lately, I’ve been listening to one called Mortified. It’s made from recordings of live events, where people get up on stage and read out parts of their teenage diaries in front of groups of strangers. It’s in the same ballpark as a local event called Confession Booth, now also a podcast, except Mortified is strict about using adolescent writing as the source.
Each podcast episode’s artwork is a picture of the performer at the age they wrote the entries read on the night. It’s legitimately LOL-inducing, and I suspect I’ve copped more than a few cases of serious side-eye thanks to the unintentional humour of the author.
It’s mostly funny because of the gap between the teen’s interpretation of the world and what I know to be true, at least from an adult perspective. You can hear this reflected in the audience’s hootings and aww-ings, particularly whenever sex (or ideas of what the mysterious practice is) make an appearance. One episode featured a particularly sketchy football coach’s designs on a good-girl cheerleader, and the audience’s Greek chorus of disapproval was great to hear.
There’s a lot of talk about sex – handjobs, wanking, the prospect of never, ever getting any – and it’s sometimes surprising to think how much it’s mentioned. Logically, yeah, teenagers are full of hormones, so of COURSE they’re going to be writing about sex. But on the other hand, the older the listener becomes, the more they forget how base kids can be. At least, in my case I do. But it all comes flooding back with the stories of how down-low dirty teenagers really are. Especially nerd girls! Obviously I was making the wrong assumptions at school – but I suppose that’s true of everyone.
There’s an endearing sweetness about the stories as they’re told. One of the best I’ve heard so far is about a young gay man who didn’t know he was gay. His honest love of game shows and soap operas and other relentlessly uncool things was so touching, and though told self-deprecatingly, his attempts to talk himself out of his attraction to guys are both funny and sad.
What’s great about the story is that he comes across another student who’s been in the same situation. It’s not made explicit that that student is gay, but he provides advice that helps the teller get through things, eventually discovering the joy of dancing at a club, after years of dancing in his room. There’s a sense of elation, of relief that’s palpable.
Other than the hilarity of the stories, the thing that makes the podcast valuable is that they talk to the performers afterwards. Each conversation gives a little insight to the setting of the story and, importantly, how the individual’s life has continued afterwards. I’ve not come across any entries yet which show regret about what they’ve read – each one seems to recognise that the echo-chamber of teenage angst in which the stories reside is very much a self-involved world, and one that they eventually escaped.
This is perhaps the value of the show – it shows that you can be a kid who talks as if his journal entries were Captain’s Logs, or that you can graph flirtation levels with girls on a mathematical scale, but there will come a time when you will feel better, that there will come a time where you feel normal. There will come a time when you won’t live at home and cool stuff will actually happen.
“We were freaks, we were fragile, and we all survived” is the phrase that ends each episode. And it’s worth remembering. While it’s not as crucial as the It Gets Better project, it is something we often forget – that how terrible our teenage years were, and how inescapable they appeared, we survived them. I reckon there’s a lot of teens listening to the show, as it’s remarkable how similar the entries are, despite differences in popular music, say. The teenager on the page is the peer of the Facebook teen. And I’d hope that while they maybe won’t have the same type of enjoyment from the podcast that I do, as I walk alongside the Cooks River, they might take some kind of solace from the fact that eventually, you escape your diary and live your life.